Jeff Rady Has a New Way of Teaching Pedal Steel

When guitarist Jeff Rady, who's played with Strange Americans, Casey James Prestwood, Faceman and other local acts, started learning pedal steel, he noticed that a lot of the instructional videos and books out there were very antiquated. He says Winnie Winston's or Scotty Moore's books on pedal steel from the '70s are still what new players must rely on. While there are a ton of resources out there for guitar players, instructional material for pedal-steel players is fairly limited, so Rady took it upon himself to teach folks the instrument on his website, RadyGuide.com, which has more than 200 video lessons on both pedal steel and guitar.

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While Rady, who teaches guitar at Swallow Hill, says he likes country music from the '70s, hearing pedal steel on alt-country albums from the early 2000s by the likes of Ryan Adams and Son Volt is what got him interested in the instrument.

"I just wanted to try to update it a little bit so that dudes like me or any players could take another path, so to speak," Rady adds.

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So about two and half years ago, he started gearing up for his website and opened it last October for guitar instruction. During that time, he says, he spent a lot of time learning how to edit videos and be in front of the camera with the guitar. After he'd put up around 150 guitar videos, he worked on the pedal-steel videos, which he just started putting up about a month ago.

"Basically what I'm trying to do is make it simple enough so that everyone can kind of get into it," he says. "It's more a site for beginners than master-class players on both sides. I didn't gear it toward really experienced players. I'm trying to get new players in the door in both instruments."

According to the description on the site, the three different levels of what Rady calls the Trailway -- Greenhorn, Journeyman and Trailblazer -- allow students to "build your skill level incrementally, so that you don't feel overwhelmed or lacking in knowledge as you progress."  

Although there might be other instructional videos on the Internet, especially on YouTube, Rady says he tries to be more thorough.

"I'm pretty diligent with tabbing everything as accurately as possible," he says. "You go through a lot of sites and YouTube, and this guy's out in his back yard and the wind's blowing and his guitar is out of tune, and they're playing stuff wrong. I probably make some mistakes sometimes, but I try to be as accurate as possible. And I try to tab everything as accurately as I can, and I give people those tabs too. I honestly believe that Rady Guide is more accurate than a lot of sites. I try to explain everything pretty diligently, especially on the pedal steel, whereas other guys -- they're all really good -- but it's harder for them to break down, 'Okay, what's the right hand doing exactly in this passage?'"

Someone who wants to learn guitar might be able to get by with a cheap instrument for $100 or so, but Rady warns that a common mistake with pedal steel is starting with an inexpensive student model.

"Then they can't ever get it in tune because it's not a good instrument, so it becomes so frustrating that they put it up," he says. "It's a bigger barrier to entry than guitar because you have to invest more money into your rig."

While Rady says there are good older pedal steels that can be had for $1,000, he adds that if it's really old, it will need to be tweaked, and there are only a handful of people locally who fix and set up pedal steels. Rady recommends getting something newer, starting around $1,500.

Aside from the fingerpicking crossover, Rady says there aren't a whole lot of similarities between guitar and pedal steel; rather, pedal steel is more like a mixture of guitar, in a way, and a drum kit, because players have to move different limbs, "and everything's kind of working in conjunction. With guitar you use the left and right hand, while steel is your right foot, your left foot, both your knees and both hands."

Rady Guide's site is subscription-based, with $6.95 a month for guitar and $9.95 for pedal, and it's $75 for a year's access to both sides. Anyone wanting to check out the guitar side free for a month can enter the promo code (WWG100) or pedal steel (WWP100) or both sides (WWB100).

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